I knew next to nothing about naturism in Catalunya until I began setting myself personal challenges. I had never taken off my clothes off in public but I felt that I needed to give it a go. I am a mentor to people with low self-confidence and low self-esteem helping them achieve self belief through a series of personal challenges – and as it’s only right to practice what I preach I am always looking for ways to stretch myself.
Luckily I have the perfect challenge partner in Debs who is often even more up and ready for things than me and so the other summer we decided to push our boundaries and discover how much self empowerment we could achieve. Click here to read more on self empowerment
Make sure that you continue reading to the end of this article for the tale of a very funny incident that happened on the nudist beach at Playa del Torn in Catalunya last summer!
Getting naked at Playa del Torn
The first challenge that we set ourselves that summer was to visit a naturist beach.
Playa del Torn
Close to the town of Hospitalet de L’Infant on the Costa Dorada in Catalunya there is a large naturist resort – i.e: naked people as opposed to a naturalist site where you go bird-watching and such-like. It is important that you do not get the two words confused!
This resort, complete with pools, restaurants, and campsite attracts naturists from all over Europe and it’s on a wonderful position up on the cliffs behind a long stretch of soft golden sand. Playa del Torn (or Platja del Torn in Catalan) is a large public beach with a lively xiringuito (beach bar) down on the sand where people from the local area mix with the campers. During the summer months a little gazebo is set up on the beach where you can get a fabulous full body massage from Albert who normally works in Barcelona and the occasional beach vendors wander along selling artisan jewellery or sunglasses. The beach has a lovely friendly family atmosphere in the locality of the campsite and the beach bar whilst further along the beach is gay friendly.
Debs and I parked the car near the beach of Playa del Torn and we set off along the cliff path which runs next to the campsite. We had not taken more than 10 steps when a woman came out of a gap in the low hedge from among the camper vans and walked along in front of us wearing absolutely no clothes and carrying a loaf of bread under her arm. Walking past the caravans and the tents I could see that everybody was carrying on their daily business – playing cards, standing and chatting around the barbeque, reading or cooking BUT the majority of them were stark staring naked. Toddlers chased each other around yelling enthusiastically and groups of teenagers hung around looking cool (most of the teenagers were wearing bikini bottoms or swimming trunks for modesty.)
I suppressed my giggles as we walked down the steps to the beach where a volleyball game was in progress, feeling like I was in a Carry On film. Reaching our chosen spot with as much space around us as possible Debs and I stripped off our clothes – and I promptly lay down flat and stayed flat for as long as I possible.
As the day went on I progressed to swimming in the warm sea – what a fantastically liberating feeling that is with no bikini – and I had a massage from the wonderful Albert. The massage was a piece of cake after the trauma of booking my session with him.
Tickets needed to be bought at the bar in the xiringuito – and my personal challenge was to buy mine without covering up and wrapping a sarong around my body. All well and good and I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I crossed the hot sand – until I wove through the tables to the bar (it was lunchtime and busy) and it dawned on me that my bare bottom was head height to the diners faces. Of course there was a queue at the bar and I had to wait there, standing with my naked bum just inches from a poor man’s dinner and feeling the insides of my stomach curling up with embarrassment!!!!
I managed to relax later on as Albert kneaded all of the knots out of my tense muscles whilst I lay in the shade of his gazebo. He told me that he worked as a masseuse in Barcelona but that he decamped to the beach for his work during the summer. When I confessed to Albert that it was my very first visit to a naturist beach he replied how brave I was to actually have a massage (naked) right out there in the public eye and I realised that I was beginning to enjoy myself.
Personal challenge achieved I felt great as Debs and I returned to the car – in fact we returned to Playa del Torn many times throughout the rest of the summer and we progressed to drinking in the bar and then making friends with groups of both campers and locals. It was idyllic standing and sitting around chatting as the sun went down and the moon came up over the horizon and looking back, it was always gratifying to realise how relaxed I had become with my own body image.
A naturist beach is a great leveller. Without clothes on people usually soon realise that not even the elegant couple who turns heads as they walk across the beach lives up to the media driven image of perfection once they remove their clothing. Cellulite, flabby bits, scrawny bits and dangly bits are everywhere. Bodies are decorated with both tattoos and scars, boobs may be missing and piercings glint in the sunlight. It all seems less important somehow. Smiles, facial expressions and laughs become what define beauty and we can all wince together at sunburn in delicate places.
Scarlet Jones naked at Playa del Torn
Snorkelling in the dark
My second personal challenge that summer was to attempt a night time snorkel.
I am not at all confident out of my depth in water and I am terrified of waves in the sea. Debs and I had already spent the day snorkelling around the rocks in the little bay of Sant Jordi d’Amalfa on the coast of Catalunya and the sea was lovely and calm as we made our way up to the beach hut at dusk where Plancton have their base.
We were given our equipment – a wet suit, snorkel and mask, an arm band with a flashing light and a waterproof torch while the instructors told us how we should conduct ourselves and pointed out some of the things that we could expect to see. And we set off BUT we turned left instead of right and walked down to the next bay where the sea was anything but calm.
I had already told one of our instructors how nervous I was and she (Eli) stayed by my side as I got into the water. I was only waist deep but the waves were crashing over my head, and whilst terrified I pushed through beyond the breakers until I was out of my depth. The rest of the group struck out for the sea while I attempted to sort out my mask which kept on leaking. Eli took my hand and we swam slowly out – and then I panicked. I had a vision/premonition/past experience – I don’t know – but I KNEW that if I continued I would surely drown. I can swim but all of a sudden I lost the ability to keep my head above water and I just had a dreadful recurring feeling that I was going down under the waves. I panicked even more as I noticed Eli backing away – I could hear a little voice from my swimming lessons as a child saying that you keep your distance from a drowning person – but Eli pushed the dive float to me and waited patiently while I got my act together talking calmly to me, but I knew that the overwhelming fear that I was feeling wasn’t going to go away. I had to get back onto dry land immediately or I would be feeding the fishes.
Clutching the float as if my life depended on it we made our way back through the crashing breakers. I was so relieved to be back on the damp sand and promising Eli that I would now be fine she went back to join the others while I sat and watched the shooting stars above me in the dark sky and thought about my experience.
Had I failed at my personal challenge? No. Of course not. I had pushed myself to get into the rough water in the dark in the first place and whilst I had failed to snorkel in the dark I had given it a go. Would I do it again? Probably not! I had tried my best and I can see no real reason to attempt it again.
Driving on the wrong side of the road
I was initially nervous about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in Spain, but it didn’t take long before I was zooming around everywhere. I got lost plenty of times (no surprise there) but I enjoy driving and it’s a dream in Catalunya because apart from in the town centres there is very little traffic.
I used to be very afraid of heights until my year in South America. In Peru I eventually got used to careering around the Andes in chicken buses with the drivers high on the coca leaves that they chewed, both to stay awake and also to counter the altitude sickness, but I was still very nervous the first time that I had to negotiate a truck down a narrow track from the mountain in Spain where I was staying. In fact, I put the trip off for ten days until I ran out of food. A friend offered to deliver me supplies but I stubbornly declined – this was just another challenge which would prove to me that I was capable of coping by myself.
So early one morning I set off down the mountain. Nope, not in the truck but on foot! I wanted to see for myself where the ‘dangerous bits’ were as well as the passing places. Because I could take my time and look where the dodgy bits were I began to relax although it did take me nearly two hours to hike back up to the house.
To celebrate my epic hike in the heat I opened a bottle of wine – which of course also had the effect of postponing the inevitable until the following day – but I am pleased to say that I eventually made it down the hairpin bends and now I hammer up and down the mountain like a rally driver!
Since that summer I have also ridden my motorbike over to Spain crossing the English Channel on a twenty four hour channel ferry and riding solo down through Spain during an epic storm. On that journey I was so glad that I had been perfecting my Spanish because I got horribly disorientated in Bilbao and I needed to ask directions. My phone had stopped working, the name and address of my hostel had disintegrated and my map was in soggy pieces. I squelched into a bar where half a dozen men leapt to my attention and helped me before sending me out into the rain again, this time in the correct direction.
Facing my fear of heights in Catalunya
Immersion in a foreign language
Catalan is the first language of the majority of the people in this region of Spain which is great for me and others who are learning to speak Spanish. Because Spanish (Castilian) tends to be the second or even the third language here, people often speak slower and can use simpler vocabulary.
I loved speaking with Andres who farmed close to the place that I was living that summer. He was extremely patient with me, rephrasing words or acting out verbs so that the conversation flowed as best as it could although I did have one hilariously epic language-fail one evening.
I was a bit flustered as I answered the door and invited Andres to sit and wait while I finished up my conversation with a technician in the States. My laptop was open on the bench as I was in a ‘live chat’ with the other guy. In my best Spanish, or so I thought, I explained to Andres that my website was broken but there was a man in the States who was going to look at it and mend it remotely from his end.
I didn’t really understand why Andres abruptly stood up and shot out of the door mumbling something about going to check on his plum trees in his field however I returned to my conversation with the expert on the other end of the chat window. Twenty minutes later there was a tentative knock at the door and Andres hesitantly poked his head into the room. After assuring him that I was finished and my computer was now functioning perfectly I got on with the business of cooking dinner, wondering why Andres kept giving me strange looks.
Halfway through our meal Andres began to chuckle as something obviously dawned on him. It turned out I had mispronounced the word for webpage. I had put the stress in the wrong place which totally changed the word and therefore the meaning.
I had apparently informed Andres that my VAGINA was broken but there was a technician in the US who was looking at it down the camera on my computer – and I just needed Andres to wait for fifteen minutes whilst it was mended!!!!!
It’s always a bit daunting when you don’t speak the same language and you need to communicate. It is the easy option to only mix with people who are the same as you and avoid difficulties; but we also communicate via body language, facial expressions and sign language and the results when you make the effort can be so rewarding. Learning another language is another way to stretch your comfort zone.
the Catalan countryside
If you would like to know more about how you can receive a personal challenge that is emailed to you every fortnight, drop me a message and we will arrange a free call and I can explain more and while you are about it, sign up for my email list and get regular updates and more of my stories sent to you.
And now for that funny story that I promised you.
Our friend Toni and his partner make lovely artisan jewellery from natural products that they sell at Playa del Torn and we have got to know them over the last couple of years. In keeping with the naturist element of the beach they wander up and down selling their products whilst wearing no clothes.
One day after spending some time chatting to Debs and I, Toni and his partner continued walking along the beach – Toni was holding a tray with some little shell anklets on it.
A sudden gust of wind blew the jewellery into the sand – with one piece ending up between the butt cheeks of a guy who was lying face down and asleep.
Toni was in a quandary. Everybody watching held their collective breath as Toni made several attempts to pick the anklet up from the guy’s crack. He decided to go for it but just as his grip tightened around it, the guy woke up and rolled over onto his side.
A dozen or more of us who were watching collapsed with laughter at the frozen tableau. As the guy rolled over his bum cheeks had gripped the anklet tight – he froze as he looked up and saw a naked guy bending over him and holding whatever was trapped between his buttocks.
The guy’s wife was also laughing too hard to explain to her husband straight away as Toni backed away and his own partner was creased with laughter as she collected up the rest of their jewellery.
If you would like to know more about my time in Catalunya you can read some of my other posts here:
Exploring the Ebro Delta in Catalunya
Cat Fishing in Catalunya
The Catalan referendum: an opinion piece by Scarlet Jones
This article has been updated since it was first published in September 2015
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Playa del Torn, Catalunya. Getting naked and other challenges
getting naked & other challenges
Should you visit Finland in winter?
Won’t it will be cold and dark and expensive!
I began to wonder why I had decided to visit Finland in winter as my plane landed at Tampere and all that I could see through the swirling snowflakes was a flat, grey and white landscape. I negotiated the stairs of the plane with warnings to hold on tightly to the handrail due to the thick coating of ice on the steps and I walked out into the biting cold.
Finland in winter is cold. The Tampere winter time is cold.
I spent six days in and around Tampere in winter I am very happy to be able to contradict all of the warnings that I was given before I set off
It’s always cold in Finland!
Of course it’s cold in Finland in winter, but people dress accordingly and buildings are well insulated and toasty-warm inside. Go out for an evening in any city in Britain in the winter and you will always see people dashing between bars and clubs dressed in short sleeved tee-shirts, girls teetering around on spikey heels and nobody wears a jacket or a coat. In Finand there’s a no-nonsense approach to the cold. Layers, layers, hats, scarves and gloves and more layers are not only the sensible choice but the only choice if you want to avoid hypothermia or frostbite.
Shops and buildings are well heated and often have a double-door porch entry system and they have polar strength double or triple glazing. Duvets are super-light but super-warm and showers are piping hot.
But the cold here is different to the cold in the UK and many other parts of the world. It’s not loaded with damp which creeps into your bones and your chest. It’s sharp and crisp and freezing but invigorating and it makes your senses come alive. The snow prettys everything up like a layer of fresh white paint and it also dampens noise. My hostel thoughtfully had a large box of coats and wraps just inside the front door so if you ever needed to dash outside for anything you could throw on an extra layer.
So don’t let the cold put you off. Wear sensible boots or shoes, take plenty of layers and get outside. Walk in the forests among the pines where the snowflakes float gently down and birds are eating the jewel-red berries. Catch glimpses of the frozen lake between the trees, and then find a steamy, warm cafe and cup your hands around a hot mug of coffee and treat yourself to a tasty cake.
It’s always dark in Finland!
Of course, the further north that you go in the winter the hours of darkness are longer, but in Tampere in January we had daylight for at least six hours a day. Yes, often the daylight was a soft dove-grey as the falling snow curled over everything and it felt like peering through fogged up glasses but snow also reflects, so once it was dark, everything had a cool glow aobut it.
Street lights illuminate the paths and the shadows retreat deeper down alleys due to the whiteness of snow layering everything. Buildings are brightly lit and peeping through the windows you can see rooms cosy and clad with pine and warm with crackling log fires or they are funky and bright in a Scandanavian Ikea type of a way.
After settling in at my hostel I checked out the map and needing to go out and find something to eat, as is my usual practice I asked at reception if there were any places that I should avoid walking on my own after dark. With a raised eyebrow the receptionist replied ‘It is often dark in Finland’. As self-preservation is high on my list while travelling solo I then asked if there were any districts or areas of the city which I should be wary of wandering into. With a complete look of incomprehension the reply was ‘Of course not! This is Finland!’
The Finnish language makes no sense to anybody: unless they are Finnish!
Yep! I can’t argue with this one BUT despite always apologising for their bad English, the majority of Finns that I met spoke impecable English. And Swedish. And sometimes Russian or another language or three. In my six days there I managed to learn two words – kiitos which is thank you and hei which is hello. And I have subsequently learnt that the Finns do not use all of the letters which are available to them in their alphabet.
If a sound is duplicated then they have dropped one of the letters and adopt the other – for example, in English the letter C sometimes makes the same sound as an S and sometimes makes the same sound as a K – the Finns don’t faff about with complications – they have all but dropped the C from their language. So at least if you are learning Finnish the alphabet is shorter.
Everything is expensive in Finland!
Costs are comparable to those in the UK – with winners and losers across the board. Granted I stayed in a hostel during my Tampere visit BUT the prices and the quality of accommodation were excellent. Check the latest hostel prices at this link. There was also a hotel element to the hostel that I stayed in (The Dream Hostel) so you didn’t have to do the whole dorm experience and I managed to get a return flight to Tampere for £49 with a budget airline!!!! That’s an insane price and there was also a realistically priced bus transfer from the airport to the city too.
Coffees, beers and food are similar prices to the UK (as I only had carry-on baggage I didn’t even glance at clothing or gifts) but I was pleasantly surprised as I had expected much much worse.
So get yourself a cheap flight and visit Finland and for budget priced but NOT budget style accommodation book in at the Dream Hostel, Tampere (a more detailed post on my time here will follow another time), grab yourself some Euros and go visit.
You can read more about staying in a hostel at this link to another of my articles here: Hostel tips and how not to behave in a hostel
If you still don’t fancy staying in a hostel (but please do check out the Dream Hostel first) then you can get the up to date prices for hotels at this link to Agoda
The Finns are a cold, silent people!
True – you will walk around the streets and people will not be smiley and enthusiastically greeting you, but whenever I stopped and looked a bit lost or I struggled over my map, somebody would usually check and ask if I needed any help.
I visited a church which was disappointingly closed, but Sari, the lady who was sweeping the snow off the path outside it, offered to open it up for me and show me around.
I visited a museum and I was helpfully told that if I were to return after 3pm there would be free entry because it was Friday and later at the museum I learnt about the history of Finland and I also learnt that, while you cannot stereotype a nation, the Finns are a people of few words and are generally shy. This was written up on the walls under some of the exhibits and while it may be true, the people that I spoke to were warm, friendly, interesting and helpful.
I mostly navigated my way around the city of Tampere with the help of a free, self-guided walking tour on a map which I obtained from the tourist information office but once inside cafes and coffee shops and once everyone had shed some of their layers of clothing, I invariably got a smile and warmth from people.
So, if you have a few days free and you can find yourself a convenient flight, do visit Tampere in Finland in winter.
Other ideas for a Finland winter.
I really want to return in the summer and see the stunning landscape without its cloak of snow and ice. Finland in winter was spectacular with a monochrome beauty but it must be drop-dead gorgeous with its many lakes and islands, andwith trees and flowers and colour in the summer.
If you don’t want the challenge of travelling solo, Explore do some fabulous sounding tours to Finland too. You can even go on a brown bear watching weekend!… Check out their latest tours here
And for the latest in flight offers I always use Skyscanner. Try searching with their monthly option for the best deals:
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If you’re looking for a European city to explore I can certainly recommend Porto (the second largest city in Portugal) for you. In this article I’ll help you to discover Porto with my 9 highlights and top things to do. Porto is romantic and brimming with history, it has amazing food and drink and the people are extremely friendly – you should seriously consider visiting this up and coming destination.
River life in Porto
I initially chose to visit Porto because I found some very cheap flights on Skyscanner (click here to try their search anywhere option?), but also, because it was the beginning of the season, there was also plenty of cheap accommodation available (check out the latest prices on Agoda here)
Getting to Porto
Before I set off I had been living in the same location for a few months and I was getting itchy feet. I need to stretch myself occasionally and remind myself what I am capable of so I played around with the Search tool on Skyscanner* and when a too good to be true deal to Porto turned up I was away. As I was living in Spain I did consider letting the train take the strain or even using a car share which I have done many times before, but the flights were cheap and the airport a simple metro ride from the city centre, so this time, the plane it was.
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Discover Porto: my 9 highlights and top things to do.
When I visited I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend who is studying in the city (we met on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos). Eduardo very kindly took me along for a traditional Portuguese meal and showed me some of the sights. I also took two separate free (for tips) walking tours with Citylovers Tours and between Eduardo and the tour guides I learnt much of what makes the northern Portuguese tick.
1. The D’ouro River
The river dominates Porto. Called D’ouro- meaning the river of gold, this major waterway is the lifeblood of the city. The old town grew up around the port, with stone buildings crammed onto the steep hillside on the banks on one side while the storage and distribution cellars of the port wine companies were built across the water.
the bustling riverside at the weekend in Porto
Six bridges cross the river, but by far the most spectacular is the Pont de Dom Luis 1 right in the heart of the city. The bottom tier carries road traffic and pedestrians, the upper level the tram and pedestrians. Look out for the young men collecting money from the gathering tourists and daring to jump off the bridge and do walk across both the top and the bottom levels in the daytime and after dark.
One night, my friend Eduardo drove me up to a viewpoint at the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar high above the city for a birds’ eye view which I loved so much that I returned to see the sunset a few evenings later. Eduardo explained to me how maybe as recently as fifteen years ago Porto had little night life and much crime, but it has now been cleaned up by the police and the politicians – and the residents are reclaiming the streets again.
must see in Porto – the riverside at night
New bars, coffee houses and restaurants are springing up everywhere and there is now a vibrant nightlife scene encompassing art, food and music.
Porto is hilly but there are buses, trams, funiculars and even a cable car which can take some of the strain; so take your time wandering around and enjoy the relaxed ambience and stop and listen to the music from the buskers who can be found playing on many of the street corners.
the tram is now mainly just for tourists
2. The beach
Make sure that you take the local bus down to the beach which runs down and around the corner of the coast from the river estuary. A grand promenade runs behind a long stretch of golden sand where the big waves from across the Atlantic thunder ashore and are a magnet for surfers.
If you have the time, go along to the little streets in the area known as Matosinhos where you can order fish from one of the little restaurants and ask for it to be grilled on a barbeque on the street in front of you.
make sure that you get down to the beach in Porto
Porto is also a popular start point for walking the pilgrim route of the Camino de Santiago. I saw several people walking purposefully northwards along the promenade, their scallop shells hanging from their rucksacks; and if I do ever get around to attempting the walk, I think that Porto to Santiago would be my first choice of route.
3. The countryside around Porto.
I had met Raj from Nepal on the free walking tour with Citylovers Tours and we decided to take the train together to the small town of Braga. This town is famous for the number of churches and religious buildings. It’s very relaxed and offered a nice escape from Porto and the train ride alone through the Portuguese countryside was worth it. The tourist office told us about a couple of places to visit outside Braga that were easily accessible by bus although I have to confess that Raj and I were feeling lazy and we didn’t bother to go outside Braga.
Braga on a sunny day
In the summer you can take a cruise along the river to see the hillsides along the D’ouro valley covered with vines – I had hoped to go pop along by train because the scenery is beautiful but I missed the early train and didn’t have enough time.
The railway station in the centre of Porto is also well worth a visit and there are always people admiring the tiled artwork. The huge tiled pictures tell the stories of the history of Porto and also show off the opulence of the city to arriving passengers.
the wonderfully tiled station in Porto is well worth a look
4. The buildings
Much of the old town and the area clustered around the riverside is UNESCO listed thanks to the beautiful architecture. Tall narrow town houses are squashed together, many are tiled, most are painted in rich colours and the majority have ornate balconies, railings and shutters.
a highlight of Porto: the UNESCO listed buildings
The huge Plaja Libertad is flanked by restaurants and hotels and topped by the grand civic building which sparkles a brilliant white in the sun and is lit by amber spotlights after dark.
Bolhao Market is the oldest in the city and has a worn down shabby feel. Walk around the upstairs terrace and you will feel that you are transported back in time, although due to rumuurs that this is the next public space that will be renovated, many of the traders have already moved out which gives the place a down-at-heel feel.
The majestic Plaja Libertad
5. Porto’s parks and green spaces
Porto certainly does well with green spaces. The City Park which is actually on the outskirts of the city is a huge green space with meandering paths that circle around a lake and attracts runners and cyclists – as does the whole promenade area along the beach road.
the park behind the prom – 9 highlights of Porto
Crystal Palace Park contains a stark green dome – squatting among the trees like a space ship and which houses a sports centre but the park itself has great views of the river and the hillside below. Another park worthy of a listing here is the …which has a lake and some cute sculptures among the trees.
Right in the city centre is a green space at the foot of the Torre dos Clerigos. An enterprising bar owner has taken advantage of this position and supplies blankets for lounging on in the sun. Cool music plays in the background and I was told the bar becomes an outdoor club in the summer.
the art deco house in the grounds of the Art Museum
The Contemporary Art Museum is surrounded by gardens and farmland. There are landscaped ponds, long driveways underneath grand trees, strange sculptures and the pink art deco house which houses further exhibitions.
6. The churches of Porto
Porto has many churches which vary enormously from the stark and bare to the ostentatious Igreja de Sao Francisco which creaks under the weight of all the gold. Many of them are tiled on the outside – (as are many of the other buildings too). The tiles (mostly blue and white) were put on the buildings to combat and protect the structures from the humidity as well as being a means to show off the prosperity of the city in the past. The tiles repel the damp during the winter and reflect the sunlight in the heat of the summer and are a feature all across Portugal.
the tiled churchs are a highlight of Porto
The Cathedral is on a high point above the city where it can be seen by people approaching from the river. Unusually behind the university there are two churches (one is the Igreja do Carmo) that have been built virtually next to each other. It wasn’t allowed for two churches to occupy share the same wall so the tiniest little house was built in the small gap between them to get around that ruling.
I already mentioned the Torre dos Clerigos above. It is a good climb up the 240 stone steps to the top of the 75 meter high tower but you get fantastic views of the terracotta roofs of Porto, the river and the countryside beyond. The church attached to the tower contains a small museum and you can climb up into the galleries that overlook the altar.
the view from Torre dos Clerigos over Porto
7. Food and drink in Porto.
Portugal is very reasonably priced and the food is good. Pork is a favourite and every part of the pig is eaten – the people from Porto and the north are traditionally called triperos – tripe eaters due to their love of that particular speciality. Bacalao (salted cod fish) is a staple dating back to the days when people had to salt their fish to preserve it and apparently you can now find over 1000 recipes for bacalao.
some of the many great restaurants in Porto
I decided not to do a port wine tour but I did want to sample the various types of port. Luckily I didn’t have to take part in a tour for this and I stumbled upon the 3+Arte Cafe. This is a co-working space for creatives with a bar and good wifi – so despite being by myself I ordered a tasting set of three different types of port wine to test and compare. I spent time working on my computer and ignoring the strange looks from the people who were eying up the three glasses of port that were in front of me.
port in Porto
Cafe Majestic is one of Europe’s oldest cafes and with its art nouveau frontage is certainly special. The prices match but if you can grab a table and you want to soak up the atmosphere of times gone by, just order a coffee and watch the world go by.
8. The Harry Potter connection.
The Harry Potter books from J K Rowling contain several connections to Porto. The author lived in the city for a while and some of her inspiration came from the things that she observed. Groups of university students wander around the city conducting strange (to outsiders) ceremonies for the novices but noticeably they are dressed in black woollen capes similar to the ones worn by the students of magic in the books.
the waterfront in Porto
The Lello Book shop got so inundated with tourists wanting to look at the interior with its carved wood features and the staircase (was it the inspiration for Hogwarts?) that they have now resorted to charging an entrance fee; although that is refundable off the price of any book purchased.
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9. The people are always the highlight for me.
The people from Porto remind me of the Spanish but they are calm, quiet and extremely polite. That is not to say that the Spaniards are not, just that the Portuguese are more so. Portugal has been in economic crisis for some time now and food, drink, transport and accommodation costs (for tourists) are probably among the cheapest in Western Europe at the moment.
catching a quiet few moments in Porto
My history lessons in school didn’t focus on Portugal at all so it came as a surprise to me to learn that the country also suffered under a dictatorship for many years. There were in fact three successive leaders who ruled with fear and over the years many innocent people were tortured or simply disappeared.
The nickame for the Golden Anchor bar near to the university translates to the Portuguese name for (head) louse and, legend has it, got its name from the days when the city was full of government spies. It became illegal for more than 3 people to gather and talk in a group on the street so the bars became places for chatting. The landlord of the Golden Anchor was believed to be sympathetic to the people and would scratch his head to indicate that there was a suspected spy in the bar listening to the customers.
If you would like some more inspiration for things to do in Porto from another perspective, then read what the Crazy Tourist has to say about the city …click here.
The people that I met
And for me, as always, what made Porto special were the people that I met.
Rui from Paris who has inspired me to walk the camino from Porto, Erika from Germany for your fun company, Raj from Nepal and Rita and the rest of the super friendly staff at the Porto Lounge Hostel Thank you to Eduardo for giving up your time and showing me around and introducing me to the smaller, more traditional places where the Portuguese hang out and also Maria and Patricia from the walking tours.
People watching on a sunny Sunday in Porto
Thank you everybody for sharing your stories with me and for giving me yet more insights into the strength of the human spirit. I support and encourage people to change their lives with the Smash the Pumpkin Project, but you change mine.
If you are looking for a romantic city break try Porto
When I was in Porto I never got around to visiting the golden clad Igreja de Sao Francisco, taking the train to Coimbra or the boat/train down the D’ouro valley to the vineyards. I never ate tripe either so I shall just have to return, although not specifically for that!
Where to stay in Porto.
I stayed at the Porto Lounge Hostel which easily makes it into my top ten of the cleanest, brightest hostels that I have stayed in. If you have never stayed in a hostel there is nothing to be afraid of; do give it a go. Many hostels now even offer private en-suite rooms and if you’re nervous about the required etiquette in a hostel you can read my guide on how NOT to behave in hostels (but please bear in mind that encountering problems such as the ones in my article are very rare).
happy and bright – inside the Porto Lounge Hostel
I travel slowly, working from my laptop but there was plenty in and around Porto to keep me occupied all week, although had I got fed up, Lisbon was a relatively short train ride away.
*If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, Skyscanner has a great facility which allows you to input any destination from a specific airport and will subsequently call up all flights which can be sorted into price order. Give it a whirl at this link – but be careful – it can be addictive (Do let me know if you succumb and you book something ;-))
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Make sure that you don’t miss out on future posts by signing up and following me at www.scarletjonestravels.com where you can get your free guide – ‘7 days to a more confident YOU‘ once you have entered your email address.
And finally, don’t forget you can plan your own trip with this Lonely Planet Guide which you can get at this link
the wine cellars by night in Porto
Discover Porto, 9 highlights and top things to do
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Reluctantly leaving the city of Cadiz behind, Debs and I began our journey north on the final leg of our road trip Spain. Cordoba, Cuenca and Teruel were our final destinations and Cordoba was the place that I had been looking forward to the most.
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In Cordoba our accommodation was in an AirBnB apartment where we stayed with the friendliest family ever just outside the old city walls (to earn a discount on your AirBnB stay click through this link)
Our hosts Quique and Valle were amazing and enthusiastically gave us tons of information about the things to see and do in their home town, proudly telling us how we could save money and what we really shouldn’t miss. They gave us some great tips, such as…
- Visit the Mezquita when it opens at 8/8.30 am and you not only get free entry for the first forty five minutes but you can get the amazing mosque with its many pillars virtually to yourself.
- Go to the Victoria Market – a food hall in its glass box structure for a flavour of the southern specialities
- Buy very cheap beer and wine in the little Que Canas bar and choose free tapas from a huge list. Not only free, these tapas were enormous, eliminating the need to buy lunch or dinner.
Although the autumn air had turned chilly we could see the many pretty patios and courtyards which locals decorate with flowers during the spring and summer and are quite rightly, a huge tourist attraction.
We crossed the old arched bridge that spanned the Guadalquivir River and we wandered around the Jewish quarter and the historical centre.
The Roman bridge in Cordoba
The highlight of Cordoba for me was a visit on my birthday, courtesy of Debs, to a demonstration of the magnificent trained horses of the Royal Stables. The show at the Cordoba Equestrian Centre was truly spectacular as skilled riders showed what their animals could do – the steeds perform intricate dressage steps perfectly in time with each other and with the music.
the amazing horse show
As usual, we hunted out a free (for tips) walking tour, this time with Cordoba a Pie and Ricardo led us around the best sites and the narrow cobbled streets. Like many small towns, these maze like streets were built in this confusing way for a purpose – here in Cordoba it was mainly to preserve privacy of the rich Muslins with dead ends ending in the beautiful courtyards. Ricardo showed us El Panuelo (Tissue Street) which is said to be the narrowest street in Europe and the Roman Temple as well as the arched Roman bridge and the impressive gate at one end of it.
the Roman gate in the old town
And the Mezquita was spectacular. We were actually the first ones through the door when it opened in the morning (the first 45 minutes are free admission), and the early start was worth the effort as we more or less had the place to ourselves. First Moorish then later Christian the hall of pillars oozes a calm and a spirituality.
the stunning Mezquita
After Cordoba we were off to another city beginning with the letter ‘C’….
Driving in to Cuenca with a useless map it took us a couple of hours to find our small pension that we had reserved. Next time I do a road trip I think that I will treat myself to a Sat Nav (this one by TomTom covers Western Europe too) By the time we settled in it was dark so we wandered around in the cold for a bit, finding a cute bar to sit in and recovering from the stress of driving where we probably weren’t supposed to drive. I regretted breaking my rule of checking behind me when walking when, at midnight, standing in a dark street and confronted by a bank of old wooden doors that all looked the same, we realised that we didn’t have a clue where we lived. We had earlier left our room which was in an annexe of the hotel without checking the address!
Refreshed after a decent night’s sleep once we found the correct front door that our key fit
ted, Debs and I set out the next morning to explore. The temperature was a frosty zero degrees, in stark contrast to the twenty six degrees that we had been baking in in Alicante just a couple of weeks before, so we walked briskly to the top of the old town and we crossed the scary metal bridge to take a look at the famous hanging houses of Cuenca.
The bridge was scary because of its height but also because the wooden floor was lethally slippery and the parapets were rather low. There are not so many of the hanging houses left in Cuenca now in Cuenca now, but they are very pretty. Dating back a few centuries the wooden balconies hang out high above the ravine which must give one an amazing feeling as you dine inside at the windows or simply stare out over the scenery.
The old town in Cuenca per ched high above the cliffs
As Debs and I climbed the track behind the old town we couldn’t believe the views and I would certainly like to return and hike some of the many footpaths and trails in the area. Much of Cuenca has been built along the top of a sharp ridge that falls steeply to both sides down to rivers below but the views and the surrounding countryside are very pretty.
As part of my attempts to improve my Spanish, Debs was pushing me to chat to random strangers. In the streets in the upper part of Cuenca my victim was a street cleaner. Happy to lean on his broom for a while after I had asked him the best place for a coffee, he chatted away to us and then he pointed out a mountain that was painted with a pair of blue eyes. With the overhanging rock-face the eyes looked just like a lady wearing a hijab. We would probably never have spotted it if I hadn’t spoken to my ‘victim’ and he told us about a doomed love story between a Christian man and a Muslim lady. He painted her eyes high above the town so that she would never be forgotten.
The eyes of the Moor
Our final destination was…
I had never heard of the town but Debs had added it to our list because it is always highlighted on the Spanish weather channel with its extremes of temperatures. Apparently it gets scorching hot in the summer but we were there as a cold snap hit the south of Spain and it felt Arctic.
one of the bridges in Teruel
Our arrival was funny as Debs drove up and down one of the streets about 10 times and I tried to spot our hotel that we had booked. Google maps, and the street signs were telling us that we were in the correct place but for the life of me I couldn’t spot the entrance among all of the little shops. Parking up to ask somebody we fell about laughing as we realised that we had totally discounted the large 3 star hotel – the Isabel de Segura on the corner of the street, but which was our super bargain for the night. Check out the latest prices here
We had gone from being squashed together in the smallest tent on the planet, to a wooden shed in the mountains to a 3 star hotel.
In the same way as searching for the hotel, we also searched for ages for the square with the statue of the bull in the centre. That was also a trick that Teruel played on us because the bull was quite tiny and stuck up high on a column – we had walked past it several times without spotting it.
The tiny statue of the bull
Teruel was interesting but at the end of our tour was like the warm-down after an exercise class.
The next day Debs pointed Betty the Berlingo north east and we headed on back towards Catalunya.
Our trip had taken 20 days, we had slept in twelve different places and we had driven more than 2000kms.
Here’s that link to the sat nav systems that I mentioned in the post – this would have saved us quite a bit of time when we were driving around the towns
If you would like to read about the trip in its entirety you can click on the following links. Feel free to message me with any questions that you may have as I am more than happy to answer anything about our destinations
You can find information and the best prices for the hotels, hostels and campsites where we stayed in the relevant articles, or in the round up below, and for more information, why not read the Lonely Planet Guide to Spain…Buy Now!
Camping Alpujarras, Laroles, Sierra Nevada, click here for latest prices
Bungalow Camping Trevelez, Sierra Nevada Check the bungalows out here
Granada – Camping Motel Sierra Nevada – we camped but bungalows are available
Ronda – Pension Rondasol – find out more here
Cadiz – See availabilty for the Casa Caracol here
Seville – AirBnB
Cordoba – AirBnB
Teruel – Hotel Isabel de Segura – 3* hotel – Best prices here
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Seville – a large city with a cosy town feel
Exploring Seville on our road trip around the south of Spain, Debs and I were getting more and more relaxed by the minute and this tranquillity continued in this city with a cosy town feel.
The beautiful Plaza Espania
We lost ourselves wandering slowly around the back lanes and alleyways of the old Jewish quarter, we ambled among the opulence of the Alcathar and we lingered during a sunset from the top of some giant wooden mushrooms – but first we had to get into the parking area at our chosen AirBnB apartment and that was proving far more difficult than it should have been.
there was wealth in this city
The directions had been simple enough. Park at the security gate, press the bell and our host would come down and open the gate. Like most city apartments around Spain the complex was built around a large central courtyard – but getting in was testing our navigation skills.
Whilst Debs is fluent in Spanish I could probably have done with this phrase book as all my Spanish flew out of my head whilst speaking via the gate intercom!
Inside the alcazar
Debs parked outside the gate while I went to find the correct doorbell. That was easier said than done; and eventually I resorted to pressing the bells en masse trying to block out the angry shouts that were coming from the direction where Debs was parked. Yikes! A white van and an angry man were trying to get past our parked car – but there was nowhere to go on the busy street. Debs had already taken a spin around the (very large) block twice for other vehicles and now she was refusing to move.
As white van man got ever angrier Debs, refusing to back out into the crazy traffic for a third time, skilfully drove up between the tables and chairs on the pavement set out in front of the bar on the corner and parked up – not phased at all by the bemused customers who were wondering what on earth she was doing or the man whose language was getting ever more colourful and blissfully ignored the chaos around her.
Embracing the chaos that can be Spain I took a leaf out of her book and sat and calmly waited while our hostess came down to let us in.
Have you ever stayed in an AirBnB with a family? If you would like to challenge yourself with different types of accommodation, check out the Smash the Pumpkin Project (click here) which will push your boundaries and help you to discover what you really are capable of
Exploring Seville on our road trip
What a start to Seville – but luckily, once in our apartment all was calm and we were very close to a bus route into the city centre so we could leave Betty the Berlingo parked up for the 3 days that we were there.
The weather couldn’t have been better with brilliant deep blue skies and warm golden autumn sun so we walked and we walked, soaking up the ambiance and tranquillity of Seville.
this city is well worth a visit
The alcazar is the shining star of the city. We had thought that the Alhambra in Granada was great but the alcazar is fantastic.
Similar to Granada but even more splendid
Room after room are decorated with patterned frescos and intricately carved plasterwork, ceramic tiles on floors and walls shone. The gardens were just as delightful with fountains splashing and shade cast by long walkways along the walls.
the attention to detail as befits a palace
Originally built as a palace by the Moors in 1181 the Alcazar just oozes opulence and was worth every centimo that we paid to get in. The hamman – the baths – remain in the gardens and in the palace rooms lead into more rooms in a maze.
the Arab baths
Many episodes of the Game of Thrones have been filmed here and if it weren’t for the hordes of tourists it would be so easy to imagine that you were back in a time of sultans and their wives, gardeners tending the exotic shrubs and children playing in the courtyards.
the captivating gardens
The Metropol Parasol
In contrast to the old and the traditional alcazar the large structure of the mushrooms or parasols intrigued us. Designed by the German architect Jurgen Mayer and completed in 2011 the series of wooden platforms connected by walkways high above the plaza below form the largest wooden structure in the world.
Seville from the giant parasols
We timed our visit to perfection – just as dusk was falling. Our entry fee included a glass of wine so taking a leaf out of the other visitors we wandered around as the city lights lit up and the sky turned pink, then orange and then a deep crimson.
wandering around the walkways in the sky
And another surprise – the Roman remains underneath the site had been preserved and displayed in a museum whils the paved space at ground level was home to what appeared to be every child in Seville having roller skate lessons
waiting for the sun to set
A huge surprise to me was the Plaza Espana. Now every village, town and city in Spain or in fact any country with links to Spain has a plaza. They vary but usually contain a church, benches, shops and bars and a statue or a fountain. That is what I expected here but when we came around the corner…..well, I could only repeat stunned wow’s as I snapped off my photographs.
everything here is on a grand scale
Set on the edge of a vast parkland this is one hell of a plaza. Colourfully tiled niches – one for each region/precinct of Spain are built in a huge semi-circle while a small lake and a canal complete with boats flaoting around on it sparkles in front
Spain’s regions in tiles
Seville is built on the Guadalquivir River and has long been associated with the gitanos (gypsies) and flamenco. It has lots of beautiful buildings, many of which are clustered around the St Mary of the See Cathedral (one of the biggest cathedrals in the world) and the city hall.
And then in 1929 Seville hosted theExposicion Ibero-Americana when it built many key structures ind different styles including Art Deco to show off the culture and the region.
The Golden Tower down by the river
We found ourselves yet another free (for tips) walking tour and our guide Roberto from Feel the City Tours explained the best bits and the history of the city.
We saw the General Archive of the Indies building, the Torre del Oro and the Royal Tobacco Factory – now housing the University but was the inspiration for Carmen; the opera.
One of the nicest things was the fact that so many streets in the centre were pedestrian only and were serviced by sleek modern trams.
Do try and get out and explore Seville by night as well as during the daytime. The buildings and parks are floodlit, the view from the wooden mushrooms is magical.
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Our entrance into Cadiz was quite spectacular.
We drove over the brand new bridge (just 14 months old) with a brilliant blue sky above and the sea sparkling a storybook Mediterranean blue below us.
the brand new road bridge
There was hardly any traffic on the road as we parked the car up and then set out on foot to search for our hostel among the twisting streets in the old town.
Cadiz or Cadicadicadi as locals call it is the most charming town and both Debs and I fell instantly in love with it.
the cathedral sparkles in the sun
Maybe it’s because it’s almost completely surrounded by the sea (a causeway connects it to the rest of Spain), maybe because the architecture is so different (many of the old sea merchants’ houses have watchtowers), maybe it is the enormous promenades and parks, but definitely it is because the people are so friendly.
street life in Cadiz
Oh, and we fell on our feet at our backpackers’ hostel too.
I LOVED the hostel – the Casa Caracol. It had an amazing vibe, great staff, and it was all contained in a beautiful building with heaps of character. I immediately told Debs that I wasn’t planning on checking out any time soon and we threw ourselves into the atmosphere by booking a ‘family’ dinner which was made by a couple from Argentina.
We spent an evening piled up on sofas and beanbags watching a video with most of the other guests, we took part in an impromptu flamenco class with yet another guest and generally we had a great time. There was a roof terrace with hammocks and an outdoor shower and loo, a log burner for the colder nights and an awful lot of stairs. Oh, and a great pancake breakfast was included in the price which is always welcome when you are backpacking and travelling.
a loo with a view
Out and about in the town we got ourselves a free walking tour, we climbed up the Tavira Tower, we explored just about every little nook and cranny and we ate our body weight in tapas.
The walking tour
Of course we tracked down a free walking tour (for tips) and that gave us a great insight into the history and the culture of Cadiz.
the narrow streets of Cadiz
Our guide walked us around the old town and explained how Cadiz became rich due to its location as a port on the tip of Spain and how from here many of the old time Spanish explorers, adventurers and pirates started and ended their trips.
the architecture screams wealth
I had already noticed the resemblance to Havana in Cuba – both in the architecture and the way that the long seafront was arranged – but also in the attitude and the openness of the population. There just seemed to be a lightness about the place. The physical light had a clarity to it – as you might find in St Ives in Cornwall or other places that artists love so much, and the people also had a carefree vibe about them.
one of the many forts
La Torre Tavira and the Camara Oscura
I had seen a camera oscura before – coincidentally in Havana when I was on my adventure trip with Explore – and this one was fun too.
An image of the city below is projected onto a screen in the dark at the top of the tower via a series of cameras and periscopes and we learnt about the unique skyline of Cadiz.
The watchtowers of Cadiz
Many of the sea merchants’ homes had towers on the roof but they are not really visible from ground level. They build the towers so that they could look out for their approaching vessels (or those of their rivals) and they could communicate with the captains by a system of flag signals. Cadiz must have been an amazing sight in its heyday with the port packed full of ships and colourful flags fluttering across the skyline.
The location of the city also made it a target for invading troops and so it was heavily fortified.
looking out to sea
A series of solid stone walls encircle the town and squat forts stick out into the sea at strategic points. Some of these are free, others contain museums and many of the street corners in the old town have iron posts to protect the walls of the houses from the carts and the traffic – but these iron ‘posts’ are the old cannons!
The twisting streets may have been designed in this way to repel invaders who would get lost and who could be more easily ambushed
A wealthy city
Because wealthy merchants and business owners settled here many of the houses are decorated with elaborate balconies and beautiful parks and gardens can be found all over the city, with exotic trees and plants and with fountains of water cascading over colourful ceramic tiles.
one of the beautiful parks
There are churches on every corner and the creamy white stones of the cathedral gleam in the sun and tables and chairs and tiny little cafes are all just a stones’ throw apart.
stepping back in time
Have you ever been escorted off a sherry tour?
The general idea is that you tour the wine cellar, sample the different types of sherry and then buy some more in the shop.
We arrived at the town of Jerez on a day trip from Cadiz by train.
the rather grand station at Jerez
A riot of colour greeted us as we stepped off the train in Jerez. The station building is decked out with the most beautiful coloured tiles which of course point to the wealth that was in this region in the past.
Once we had got our bearings and after a short strong coffee, Debs and I took advantage of the Open Top Tourist Bus which included a visit to the Tio Pepe Sherry Estate.
wonderful tiles at the station
In the late autumn sunshine Jerez was a quiet and charming little town. Its claim to fame is the sherry (fortified wine) and flamenco.
The tour of the Tio Pepe cellar was really very interesting and it was all housed in a grand estate. The grounds were so big that at one point we were taken in a little land-train from one area to another. The barrels which are painted black (so that any leaks can be more noticeable) were lined up in formal rows and our guide explained the concept of sherry making to our tour group and he also pointed out the barrels which famous people had signed and been photographed next to.
Then it was on to the best bit of our tour – the sherry tasting. Our ticket included a couple of free samples – and Debs and I soon upgraded to try several more. We managed to persuade the others on our table to join us but when we asked for another round our guide informed us that it was not possible and we had to leave.
Actually it should have all been very possible but he wanted to go home (we suspect that he had a date) and it seemed that we were his responsibility until we were off the premises. We found a Japanese guy who was staying at our hostel and who invited us to join him, but our guide was having none of it.
We thought that we had given him the slip when we went to the toilets (our Japanese friend followed us and invited us again to join him) but our guide tracked us down and he escorted us off the premises! Short of twisting our arms behind our backs he hustled us out, via the gift shop which he herded us quickly through not even allowing us time to stop and buy some sherry and he deposited us back out onto the street. We weren’t even drunk but hey ho it made for a very amusing anecdote.
Get your Spanish phrase book here so that you can avoid confusion when you travel.
As you would expect seafood features heavily in the cuisine of Cadiz and Jerez. The fish market is a vibrant, smelly place and it contains numerous stalls which will cook your chosen fish to order. A speciality of the region are the flat crispy little shrimp ‘pancakes’, of course the sherry and chiparrones – deep fried bite sized crunchy bits of baby octopus and which are a lot more delicious than they might sound.
one of the typical shrimp fitters
Whilst we were chilling in the hostel one afternoon, one of the guests was practising flamenco. We began chatting to him and he invited us along to watch him practice later that evening. Alex teaches flamenco and whilst we expected to watch him he was really generous and gave four of us an impromptu flamenco lesson.
our impromptu flamenco lesson
I had been moved almost to tears by the raw passion at the flamenco show while we were in Granada and here I was, stamping and clicking with a maestro. It was the perfect end to Cadiz and the most southerly point of our #roadtripSpain. We would be heading back up the map the next day.
The interesting bits of Cadiz and Jerez
Our trip – Cadiz – Jerez – Cadiz
Where we stayed: Casa Caracol Hostel – definitely a 5 star choice – click here to see the latest rates and pictures of the rooms. You don’t even have to stay in a dorm as there are private rooms and they are beautiful too
Sherry Tour: we bought a duel ticket for the city open top bus ride combine with our entry fee to the Tio Pepe sherry estate. This included 2 samples of sherry and was excellent value – we just would have liked some more sherry (I should add, we were prepared to pay for it). The Tio Pepe tour was also interesting and our guide was excellent – we just would have liked to have chilled and sampled some more of the products.
You can read the other articles in the series here:
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Getting kicked off a sherry tour!